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Mercer President Presented J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award

June 28, 2010

Media Contact:
Mark Vanderhoek
(478) 301-4037

To read President Underwood's acceptance speech, go>.
To watch a video of the speech, go>.

CHARLOTTE, NC — The Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty presented its J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award to Mercer University President William D. Underwood during the organization’s annual Religious Liberty Council Luncheon in Charlotte, N.C., on June 25 during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly. Also receiving the Dawson Award at the luncheon was the Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor, one of the founders of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and a religious leader during the Civil Rights Movement.

The J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award was established on the 50th anniversary of the Baptist Joint Committee in 1986. The award recognizes contributions of individuals in the area of the free exercise of religion and church-state. Prior recipients include Bill Moyers, Jimmy Carter and Tony Campolo. Underwood, who served as the Baptist Joint Committee’s first collegiate intern in 1981, also delivered the luncheon’s keynote address, titled “A Christian Nation: But Which Christianity?”

President Underwood (right) receives the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award from Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director J. Brent Walker.
President Underwood (right) receives the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award from Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director J. Brent Walker.

Prior to becoming Mercer’s 18th president on July 1, 2006, President Underwood served at Baylor University as interim president and held the prestigious Leon Jaworski Chair at the Baylor School of Law. An accomplished educator and scholar, he was designated a Master Teacher at Baylor in recognition of extraordinary classroom teaching over an extended period. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Foundation.

Underwood was awarded the J.D. degree summa cum laude by the University of Illinois College of Law in 1985, where he graduated as class salutatorian and was an editor of the University of Illinois Law Review. Following graduation, he clerked for the Honorable Sam D. Johnson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, prior to practicing law for several years with a large law firm in Dallas. He also holds an undergraduate degree from Oklahoma Baptist University.

About the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Primarily an education and advocacy organization, the Baptist Joint Committee is a leading voice in Washington, D.C., fighting to uphold the historic Baptist principle of religious freedom. It stands guard at the intersection of church and state, defending the first freedom of the First Amendment. Composed of representatives of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States and supported by thousands of churches and individuals across the country, the BJC works with a wide range of religious organizations providing education about and advocacy for religious liberty. The BJC is the only religious agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. While primarily supported by Baptists, the BJC fights for religious liberty for all, including Jewish, Muslim and a host of Christian groups, who count on the BJC for leadership. A proven bridge-builder, the BJC provides reliable leadership on church-state issues as it leads key coalitions of religious and civil liberties groups striving to protect both the free exercise of religion and to defend against its establishment by government.

About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,000 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at three regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit

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